• Published 12th Aug 2019
  • 1,077 Views, 69 Comments

The Horizon Behind Us - Syke Jr

Gingersnap has never had to fear death. But to ponies from the outer realm, death is a big deal.

  • ...

Chapter 2 - Photograph

I meet him for the first time on the summer night he arrives with his family. He's alone in what amounts to the town square, at the crest of the hill that leads down to the forest, to the road to Trottingham. There between the silent buildings he's outlined against the stars and the full moon, a silhouette before the night.

I'm taken with the image, and begin to raise my camera. I think better of it, though, when I realise who it might be. What pony would be here, in the deserted street in the middle of the night? Anypony out this late would be nearer the pubs on the other side of town, not alone in front of the town hall. Tonight in particular, there's only one real answer.

I think about taking wing; flying up and over so I don't have to disturb him. Something tells me this unicorn is looking for solitude. But I hear him sigh. It's not an unhappy sound. He looks up at the stars, unwittingly posing with legs outspread, a stark outline against the deep blue, horn nearly touching the rising moon. I forget my manners, my caution. Without really thinking, I raise my camera and snap a photograph.

It takes a moment for him to register the noise. I don't breathe. He turns to face me, eyes invisible in the darkness, but doubtless meeting my own in the moonlight. Again I wonder if I should fly away, and find a way to apologise for intruding later on. Again, I don't. Instead I turn to the bench beside me, and make a show of putting my camera away: removing the lens, capping the body, slipping everything into its special padded pouch. I hope it's an unspoken apology. I'll leave after it's stowed away. For a moment the pony simply considers me, unmoving, but as I place the equipment in my messenger bag, he begins to walk over. I'm nervous now. I know I should have just left him alone.

As he approaches I turn, bag over my shoulder, and smile weakly. "Hey, um... hi. Sorry. About the camera."

He clears his throat. "You took a photo?"

He sounds almost like a local. But there's something else there, too. I try to place the accent (Canterbury, maybe?) before realising that's a remarkably silly thing to do. I also realise I've been simply staring for at least a couple seconds too many.

"I- yeah, I did. Sorry. I'm just used to, you know, snapping whenever I see a good scene. I wasn't thinking."

"It's... fine." He looks back at the crest in the road, considering the view. "I can see what you mean."

"Right. I just... I get it if you want to be alone. You just got here, and I know newcomers usually need some time before they want to, um. Socialise."

He looks back and raises an eyebrow. The eye facing me is a deep, olive green, and his coat is silvery in the moonlight. His black mane is unkempt. "Newcomers?"

"From, uh. The other world. The outer realm. Whatever ponies call it."

"Outer realm," he says, looking at the moon with a tiny, almost wistful smile. "Right. The whole town knows, do they? Celestia said that might be the case." He considers. "Or am I just that obvious?"

"Yes- I mean, no, we knew some ponies were coming from the other world." Honesty gets the better of me. "But nopony else would be on this side of town at this time of night. I kind of guessed who you were."

He nods absently. "I didn't expect to meet anyone out here, but it's not like I was avoiding it. Meeting ponies is what this is all about, really..."

Before I can think of what to say to that, he glances to me again. "Why were you out on 'this side of town', then?"

"Oh. Um. Just wandering, really. I like to try to take a few photos at the full moon." I gesture to my bag. "I was going to fly out over the forest a little before I went home."

"New Forest? Is that its name?"

"Yeah. The town's name, too."

He nods. "That I knew."

"Right." We fall into a calm silence. He doesn't seem to mind my presence, but continues staring up at nothing in particular.

After a few moments, he turns, steps past me, and hops onto the bench. He gazes around again at the town square, sitting with a pensive expression on his face. I join him on the opposite side of the bench, my messenger bag between us.

Usually I'm not one for silent company. I'm always alone when I'm out photographing. I really only speak to ponies in passing, or in my studio. All my socialisation is online. It's odd to share a silent moment with somepony you've just met. Yet, for some reason it feels like the right thing to do.

"Sorry," says the silver pony without warning, "I'm usually not so quiet. I'm just... not quite sure I'm here, yet."

I don't immediately respond. He seems to need to fill the silence. "I don't know if you know much about... the outer realm, but just being here is an adjustment like you wouldn't believe." He glances down at his hooves, then quickly away.

"I... have a bit of an idea," I respond. I think that's true enough. Though I can't pretend I have any idea what it would be like to find myself in a different body. "I've been reading some books from your world, actually. On Princess Celestia's recommendation."

He seems entirely taken aback at this. "Really? Celestia gave you... human books?" I nod. His surprised expression doesn't leave my face. "Like... history books?"

"No... well, yeah, I think, but I didn't read any of those. I kind of know the basic history of your world. You know, from the internet. I stuck to fiction." I scratch my neck absently. "It's weird how similar it almost is."

"Almost is?"

I'm not sure what to say. Reading those books was strange for a lot of reasons. "Like... you lot seem to care about the same things we do. And your stories are similar, too. But there's something off. It's like the characters are always expecting the worst, and most of the time they're right." I look back at him. "The antagonists aren't always the main problem. Sometimes it's like the whole world is against the ponies in the book."

"Yeah... I guess you wouldn't have stories quite like that, here." Something else seems to register, and his eyes widen again. "You have the internet?"

" 'Course. We can even connect with the outer realm, sometimes. For, like, livestreams and stuff."

"Right. I guess I did hear about that, a while ago." He looks wistful again. "A long while ago."

"I'm actually a bit of an internet nerd. That and my photography are mostly all I do." I pause. "And reading."

He turns to me again, and looks at me almost searchingly. It's a little intense. I raise an eyebrow. "What?"

"Nothing." He turns away. "I just... I can relate to that. A lot." For a tiny moment he looks broody, suspicious. He looks up at the sky, then gives a small sigh and looks back to me. "So... what's your name?"

For some reason, I feel unprepared to answer. "Um. Gingersnap." A pause as he nods. "What's yours?"

"I'm..." he seems to be struggling with something. He glares at the sky briefly again, shakes his head, takes a deep breath. "Silver Star. Call me Silver."

I'm not sure what to make of the display. I feel like I'm missing something; even knowing where he comes from, I realise I understand little. Celestia's visit begins to make more sense. But I don't have any reason to dislike him. In fact, Silver seems like the kind of pony I could get to know. And I suspect there's a lot more to know, compared to most ponies in town.

I realise again the silence has been just a little too long. "...It's nice to meet you, Silver."

He smiles a little. "Nice to meet you too." Then he asks something else out of the blue. "What's the nearest city to here? I mean, assuming this doesn't count?"

I take a moment to register the question, then grin. "Oh, no, Newforest is pretty small. Leave town that way—" I point to where he was standing when I took the photo—"and you're on the road to Trottingham. I think we're actually closer to Manechester, if you're flying. But the road there is a lot longer."

He snorts, almost sardonically. "No wonder you sound English. Rand—my brother will be happy, at least. Probably move to Trottingham as soon as he can."

I don't quite get the first half of that, but take the opportunity to ask about his family. "Your brother?"

"Yeah. I came here with him and my mum." He says "mum" oddly, giving it an almost Manehattanesque twang. "They're probably sleeping already. But I was never going to sleep tonight." He considers something. "Well, mum's asleep. I guess he might not be." Again, he says it like "maam". Weird.

"It probably makes it easier, coming with family. I know a lot of ponies from your world don't."

"They're probably the smart ones," he responds a little darkly. "You'd be surprised."

Again, I'm unsure of what to say. It seems like Silver has a lot more on his mind than just our conversation, though, and I can't blame him. "I don't get what you're going through, mate, but ponies in this town are welcoming. Go down any of the pubs one of these nights and you'll see." He looks at me but doesn't say anything. "I think settling here will be easier than you think. Really."

He seems to be considering my words. Then he sighs, and leans back, elbows resting on the back of the bench. "I hope you're right about that, Gingersnap."